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215. Fin Whale

Balaenoptera physalus


Second in size only to the blue whale, the fin whale is the largest whale known to breach.

Famed for its ability to sustain speeds of almost 40 km/hour, the species is sometimes referred to as the “greyhound of the sea”. It was for this reason that the fin whale was not initially targeted by early whalers. However, the species suffered the most drastic declines of any of the rorquals following the onset of modern commercial whaling. Almost 750,000 fin whales were reportedly taken from the Southern Hemisphere alone between 1904 and 1979. Although commercial whaling has now been banned, scientists fear that it may be too late for the species to recover from such a massive population decline. Baleen whales (Mysticeti) split from toothed whales (Odontoceti) 34 million years ago, spanning four families with only 15 species. The fin whale shares its genus, Balaenoptera with 7 species, although the only other genus in the rorqual family belongs only to the humpback whale.

  • Order: Cetartiodactyla
  • Family: Balaenopteridae
  • Population: 100,000 – 119,000
  • Trend: unknown
  • Size: 19-20m
  • Weight: 70,000kg

EDGE Score

EDGE Score: 5.23 (?)
ED Score: 22.32 (?)
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


The fin whale has a global distribution, occurring in the north Pacific, north Atlantic, Indian and Arctic Oceans and in the Mediterranean. They are relatively rare in tropical or polar seas. There are two main populations, one in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere.

Habitat and Ecology

Fin whales occur both in open ocean and in shallow coastal waters. They are highly migratory, moving to high-latitude feeding grounds during spring and summer, returning to southerly temperate waters for mating and calving during autumn and winter. They feed by filtering planktonic crustaceans (krill), fish and squid through their baleen plates.

Find out more

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This wordcloud illustrates the threats facing this species. The size of each word indicates the extent of a species range that is affected by that threat (larger size means a greater area is affected). The colour of the word indicates how much that threat impacts the species (darker shades of red mean the threat is more severe).

Shipping Fishing Fishing

Threat wordcloud key:

Small area affected
Large area affected
Least severe
Most severe
Severity unknown
Source: The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2017.1.
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